The Times (UK) Hit Piece About Human Rights Watch

by Kevin Jon Heller

David Bernstein links today to an article in The Times — a right-wing British newspaper published by Rupert Murdoch — attacking Human Rights Watch.  The article is breathlessly entitled “Nazi Scandal Engulfs Human Rights Watch,” which I have to admit piqued my curiousity — until I realized that the “Nazi scandal” concerned Marc Gelasco, a research analyst who resigned from HRW after the organization found out about his hobby of collecting Nazi memorabilia.  The ridiculous title tells you all you need to know about the article’s credibility.

But the article doesn’t stop there.  It also makes sure to fundamentally distort HRW’s record in an attempt to prove that the organization is anti-Israel:

Every year, Human Rights Watch puts out up to 100 glossy reports — essentially mini books — and 600-700 press releases, according to Daly, a former journalist for The Independent.

Some conflict zones get much more coverage than others. For instance, HRW has published five heavily publicised reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories since the January 2009 war.

In 20 years they have published only four reports on the conflict in Indian-controlled Kashmir, for example, even though the conflict has taken at least 80,000 lives in these two decades, and torture and extrajudicial murder have taken place on a vast scale. Perhaps even more tellingly, HRW has not published any report on the postelection violence and repression in Iran more than six months after the event.

Um, no.  As a commenter to Bernstein’s post pointed out, HRW published a “report on the postelection violence and repression in Iran” in February of this year.  It has also published literally dozens of various news reports, letters, and press releases condemning the Iranian regime’s response to the elections since June 2009. Apparently, the “journalist” who wrote the article couldn’t be bothered to spend 30 seconds on the HRW website.  Much better to distort and trust that most readers won’t know any better.  (Which is, of course, the guiding principle of Murdoch journalism.)

The article is no more accurate concerning Kashmir. HRW has published two reports on Kashmir in the past few years alone (see here and here) and at least eight others since 1991 (see here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here).  My math isn’t very good, but I’m reasonably confident that 10 is greater than four.  And, of course, HRW has also published — as with Iran — hundreds of news reports, letters, and press releases concerning Kashmir in the past two decades.  I guess those don’t count because they complicate the author’s misleading narrative.

I could go on, but what’s the point?  The article is an attempt to deceive, not a genuine effort to have an intelligent debate about HRW.  How sad that all of HRW’s good work in places like Iran and Kashmir get drowned out by attack pieces like this one.

17 Responses

  1. While I agree that the article undermines some of the good work being done by HRW I think the main thrust of the argument is that HRW is biased when it comes to its coverage of the Middle East.   

    As the article points out, Israel and the Occupied Territories receive an overwhelming amount of coverage from HRW, while countries like Egypt and Syria (countries with a history of totalitarian violence and flagrant human rights abuses) remain underreported. 

  2. Even for those who hear, speak and see no evil, the close correlation between the practices of Ken Roth’s “moral” organization and unsavory dicatorships should raise some questions. Why the total lack of transparency, the effort to turn Garlasco into a non-person, crude attacks against researchers and critics,  gag orders, and double talk? What are they covering up, particularly regarding Garlasco’s credibility as HRW “senior research analyst”, the reports he wrote on Israel, and the question of whether they were doctored by hard core ideologues Stork, Whitson, Roth and Levine. Richard Goldstone was a member of HRW’s board, is very close to Roth, and his report is built on HRW’s allegations. If these are shown to invented and embellished, Goldstone’s house of cards collapses. Stay tuned.

  3. I have heard the same criticism about a ‘slant’ against Israel being directed at Amnesty International, when I used to work for them. Most of it is just plain (and at times willing) ignorance: the media only seem to remember about AI and HRW when they publish reports that they deem ‘interesting’, and a lot of very good research is just never talked about. The only bias public opinion perceives is the bias in the media coverage, not in AI or HRW (at least as far as I can tell).

    But when it gets to the Times’ level of willingful distortion, I sort of half-hope that HRW will start some nice libel action in London [forum shopping anyone? ;-)].


  4. Murray,

    The main thrust of the argument is based on lies about HRW’s work.  As with Iran and Kashmir, HRW has published dozens and dozens of reports, news reports, press releases, and letters about Egypt and Syria in the past few years.  Unfortunately, because of the constant hysteria of the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd, most people only pay attention to HRW’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring what a remarkably small percentage of HRW’s work that coverage represents.

  5. Kevin put it very well regards Israel. In fact, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a perfect example of how ‘bias’ has been redefined from ‘failure to present a neutral point of view’ to ‘failure to push my particular agenda’.

    In the light of that, you get reports that must always present Israel as the agressor and the Palestinians as the victims or vice-versa – irrespective of the actual events of that situation.

    As for the Murdoch press – well, they have always lived by the motto: “don’t cloud the issue with facts” 😉

  6. “HRW’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring what a remarkably small percentage of HRW’s work that coverage represents.”

    Hardly.  Click here for more:

  7. Dear Kevin:

    Thank you so much for your continued defense of Human Rights Watch against these attacks. You nicely point out that many of these attacks, and this one in particular, are based on misrepresentations and falsehoods. It is really important to have voices like yours to respond to these smear attempts.

    I should say that it is good and productive to have a public discussion of what types of human rights violations and violators ought to be the focus of human rights reporting. But this discussion needs to take place in good faith, with a presumption that human rights organizations are trying to do the right thing.

    Thanks again.

  8. Isn’t news supposed to be timely?

  9. Maybe the reason for the disparate treatment is that there are elements of civil society in Israel (and the US) that are influenced by HRW and Amnesty discourse and can impact Israeli policy.  In contrast, no such entity in say Iran either exists or can impact policy.  That, I think, is why HRW focuses on these countries … it might actually matter.  Which in some ways is a great compliment to both countries.

  10. Calls on HRW to launch a libel action against the Sunday Times sound suspiciously like demagogic attacks on free speech and attempts to use the courts to stifle legitimate criticism. How is this consistent with the norms and principles of liberals who also claim to support universal human rights?  Is criticism a privilege reserved for the ideologically “enlightened”? . — And on the issue of full disclosure, I note that Mr. Heller has not posted information on his links with HRW, including any connections he might have had with Marc Garlasco. 

  11. We have long since established that Gerald Steinberg knows nothing about international law; now we know that he knows nothing about irony, either.  Perhaps he might have inferred from Francesco’s use of the wink symbol that he was not seriously encouraging HRW to sue NGO Monitor.

    And nice use of innuendo, Mr. Steinberg.  I have identified my work with HRW more than a dozen times on this blog and you have no reason to believe that I have any connection to Gelasco — which I don’t.

    By the way, have you identified your ties to the Israeli government? And given that you constantly criticize HRW for not being transparent about its funding, who funds NGO Monitor? Please, in the spirit of full disclosure, let us know.

  12. From a November 27, 2009, op-ed in Haaretz:

    NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques – blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts.

    If Steinberg really cares about “transparency,” why does he not begin in his own backyard? Breaking the Silence, a frequent subject of his organization’s wrath, has financial reports for 2006-2008 posted on its Web site. NGO Monitor’s site lists only one small U.S. charity as its current funder, providing no links for further information. The Institute for Zionist Strategies’ site says nothing about its funding.

  13. Readers should also check out a recent Jerusalem Post editorial written by a professor at Ben-Gurion University that explains how NGO Monitor refuses to practice the transparency and even-handedness that it constantly demands from others.  Here is a snippet:

    Reading its publications, it is very clear that NGO Monitor has, for a number of years, had a dual objective. Its reports deal almost entirely with a critique of peace-related NGOs and especially those which focus on human rights, as though there were no other NGOs to examine. The second is to point the blame for the funding of these NGOs at the door of the European Union in what has become a very blatant anti-Europe policy.

    In an unprecedented move, NGO Monitor requested detailed information from the EU on 105 projects which were funded under the auspices of either the Partnership for Peace (PFP) or the European Instrument for Development and Human Rights (EIDHR) programs as though they were carrying out a police investigation for fraud. And despite the fact that the EU provided copious material in response, over and beyond what it normally releases, NGO Monitor has not allowed the facts to get in the way of its preconceived conclusions.

    NGO Monitor itself does not practice the same degree of transparency that it demands from others. It constantly refuses to disclose its own funding sources, over and beyond the minimal amounts which are registered with the official register of nonprofit organizations and which account for but a small percentage of its actual income.

    And despite many requests for NGO Monitor to investigate, on an equal basis, the activities and funding of right-wing NGOs, many of which support illegal activities in the West Bank, it has consistently refused to do so. Many of these NGOs are North American-based and fund activities in settlements which are deemed illegal by both international and US law, while others support hesder yeshivot whose leaders, just a week or so ago, supported the illegal call for soldiers to refuse orders aimed at future settlement evacuation. It would appear that what is sauce for the goose is certainly not sauce for the gander as far as NGO Monitor is concerned.

  14. Mr. Heller — the anger and vitriol in your posts suggests that NGO Monitor‘s criticism of superpowers like HRW and Amnesty have made you and the high priests (Ken Roth, for example) nervous. But the ramblings of an oped writer will not save your faith. Instead, you should acknowledge the problem and read NGO Monitor’s detailed and systematic research reports. In particular, given your self-interest, I recommend the 50-page Experts or Ideologues: Systematic Analysis of Human Rights Watch. You will find numerous examples of s inconsistencies, false claims and double standards, wrapped in a facade of “research”, legal rhetoric, and a culture of secrecy (HRW’s gag order on Garlasco is the latest example). HRW, Amnesty, etc. are responsible for cynically trashing the moral universal principles embodied in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. In contrast, NGO Monitor was founded to speak truth to their power.

  15. I will give Mr. Steinberg this: NGO Monitor does make me nervous, in exactly the same way that Fox News does — lies and deceptions and misstatements all too often succeed in misleading those who are exposed to them.

  16. Re: HRW and Amnesty’s “culture of secrecy” — I look forward to receiving the list of NGO Monitor’s donors and the amounts they contributed.

  17. Mr. Heller — the essential question is why NGO Monitor makes you so angry. Is this because you have found errors in our analysis? If so, please share so we can correct them. Or perhaps some other group, unknown to the rest of the world, is doing a better job of keeping HRW etc. honest, and providing checks and balances.

    Another possible reason is the notion that superpowers like HRW etc. should be exempted from all analysis and criticism. This “halo effect” is an article of religious faith animating vitriolic attacks and the rejection of all hints of wrongdoing by Kenneth Roth, SL Whitson, Joe Stork, and the others that control HRW’s budget of tens of millions of dollars. 

    Perhaps this faith and the power of the church of human rights NGOs (like all such powerful institutions) requires you to turn a blind eye to the clear inconsistencies and fictions in HRW reports such as “Razing Rafah” (2004), the Garlasco drone report (2009), the Gaza beach campaign (2006), and many other examples. But for the skeptics among us, how can this systematic bias be explained? NGO Monitor provides a detailed analysis. If you don’t like ours, what is your explanation?

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